Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
Impact of Globalization on Women Migrants
Prepared by: Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), Asia Pacific Women Law
and Development (APWLD) and Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS)
Submitted to the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
The research project on the Impacts of Globalization on Women Migrants is an off
shoot of the Asia-Pacific Conference on Women and Labour organized by the Asia-
Pacific Research Network (APRN) held in Thailand.
One of the workshops during the forum is on women migrants. Participants of the
workshop group decided to make a study on the impacts of globalization to migrant
women with particular emphasis on the concrete issues of undocumented migrant
workers in South Korea and the New Conditions of Stay (NCS) for foreign domestic
workers in Hong Kong.
Through the discussion on globalization, migration and “feminization” of migration,
the organizations that collaborated on this research wish to present general picture of
what globalization is, how it impacts on the current migration process and the place
of women in this process.
Through the use of the concrete issues of undocumented migrants, the trainee
system in South Korea, and the NCS in Hong Kong, we wish to deepen the
understanding on the situation that women migrants face in the face of the host
country’s adherence to neoliberal policies.
This research project does not yet delve much into the issue of the intensifying
migration of women due to globalization policies in labor-exporting countries. We
have tried, however, to show this fact in our general exposition on globalization and
From the general resolutions and unity reached by the workshop at the APRN
conference, member organizations of the research team went through the process of
designing the research including the outline of topics. Then, members of the research
team divided the topics according to which group has more extensive experience and
resource on each of the topics.
The methods used includes survey of related resources including previous studies on
women and migration, legal documents of the trainee system and NCS, statements
and releases of groups that have campaigned against these policies and records of
The organizations assigned to each topic of the research are given the latitude to
treat each topic according to their own design. They decided on the topics and
information to be included in their part of the research. However, other members of
the team are also free to give their comments.
The conclusion of the research is drawn from the information culled. A member of the
group drafted the conclusion and was then passed on to the other members for the
comments and finalization.
I. Globalization and Migration
Globalization or neo-liberalism generally has not benefited the working people of the
world. From 1993 – 2003, the world’s unemployment increased from 140.5 million to
185.9 million. Industrialized economies are no exception as they had a total of 7
percent unemployment rate. At the same time those engaged in the informal
economy especially from developing regions living on US$1 or less a day have
remained the same as that of 2002 at 550 million people. Sixty percent of these are
Thus it is not surprising that the number of migrants worldwide has increased to 175
million in 2000, or double the number compared to 1975. These figures do not even
include undocumented migrants who are estimated to be around 35 million people. If
we would compare only the number of documented migrants to the world’s
population, one in 35 people are migrants. Of these, 120 million are migrant workers
while the rest are refugees, asylum seekers and permanent immigrants. Half of these
Migrants are projected to increase more in the coming years as can be gleaned from
recent trends. According to Manolo Abello, Chief, International Migrant Branch of the
ILO, the annual growth rate of the migrant population was 2.3 percent at the end of
the 1980’s, 2.6 percent in the first part of the 1990’s while at present it has reached 3
Furthermore, according to the UN International Migration Report 2002, a number of
countries are dependent on the foreign exchange earnings of their nationals abroad
and this has become an important addition to its gross domestic product. Last year
over 100 billion dollars were remitted by migrants to their home countries. Some
examples that the UN gave include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde,
El Salvador, Jamaica, Jordan, Nicaragua, Samoa and Yemen where remittances
from abroad constitute more than 10 percent of their GDP in 2000.
Globalization is a bane to mankind
Some analysts and researches simply define globalization as the diminishing
importance, more often economically speaking, of stately borders. Others tend to
agree but have different interpretations as to its definition of “the trend to enable a
free flow of goods and capital by removing national and regional barriers.” Others just
refer to it as the movement and internationalization of capital, information and people.
(Edward C.B. Smith, Scott B. Martin, Helen Siu, Globalization and Labor Migration, A
Study of Taiwan’s Contract Labor System and Southeast Asian Migrant Labor
Antonio Tujan Jr’s paper on “Labor Export and Forced Migration under Globalization”
gives a more precise description of globalization which he simply refers to as
Imperialist globalization represents the current effort of monopoly capital to address
the problem of deepening crisis of overproduction exacerbated by technological
revolution. Advances in technology bring forth more efficient production processes,
better products, and faster, cheaper ways of doing business. The immediate effect
maybe success in business competition, but the overall effect is not more profits, but
more recessionary crises due to overproduction.
Neoliberalism or the Washington consensus has become the new paradigm of
imperialist globalization in order to open new markets for trade and investment. This
is the way out of the crisis as excess goods are dumped and utilize excess capital is
utilized in financial -speculation in these so-called emerging markets. Monopoly
corporations preach free market economics in order to further monopolize trade and
investment, divest nation-states through privatization of state assets and services,
and remove regulations that prevent greater monopoly integration and control and
Globalization promises modernity and prosperity, but delivers the opposite. Financial
speculation allows monopoly corporations to siphon off the lifeblood of economies,
while trade and investment liberalization allows monopoly corporations to kill off local
enterprises which are in no position to compete. The overall result of globalization is
the destruction of the domestic economy, the massive loss of jobs and livelihood, and
the domination of foreign monopoly corporations
Going back to ILO’s Manolo Abello, he further stated that the assumption that greater
liberalization of trade would lead to the converging of wages is wrong. He added that
in actuality more trade led to an increase to more people migrating. Mr. Abello cites
that the income difference between the poorest and richest countries is now nearly
ten times what it was in the 1950’s. He suggests that for labor migration to stabilize
or fall formal or stable employment should increase and that wages should rise in the
countries of origin of migrants. In essence, trade liberalization and globalization must
II. Women Migrants
"Feminization" of Migration
In the International Organization of Migration (IOM) Women statement of 2000, it
defined feminization of migration quantitatvely and qualitatively. It said "women
account for a growing percentage of migrant populations - and in several countries,
they already constitute the majority". It added that "women are migrating
independently - particularly as labour migrants - in vastly greater numbers than was
the case in their mothers' or grandmothers' generation."
And according to Marcella Ballara of the Red de Educación Popular Entre Mujerers
de América Latina y el Caribe (REPEM) in 2002 the first immigration flow was
characterized by the companies' preference for male workers. However, since male
workers more often try to organize themselves in trade unions, ask for higher
salaries, and also often start a family and permanently remain in the country they
migrated to, the trend is changing. The second flow or migration is witness to a sharp
increase in female migrant workers.
In a new revelation though, Hania Zlotnic of the UN Population Division, made a
study in 2002 indicating that since 1960 female migrants already accounted for
nearly 47% of all migrant workers. There were slight increases in the next four
decades to come until women migrants reached almost 49% in 2000. Ms. Zlotnic
says that based on the figures she was able to gather, that there is already a high
level of feminization since 1960. In numerical terms, there were 35 million female
migrants and 40 million males in 1960 and in 2000, this more than doubled to 85
million female and 90 million male migrants respectively.
Other findings of Ms. Zlotnic include the ff:
1. Female Migrants Claim Larger Proportion in Developed Countries
2. Developing Countries See Increase in Female Migration
3. Proportion of Women Migrants Parallels Refugee Increases in Africa
She concludes that the number of female migrants has been large and continues to
increase globally and that female migration is a key constituent of global migration.
Table 1. Percentage of female migrants among the total number of international
migrants, by major area, 1960-2000
Major area 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000
World 46.6 47.2 47.4 47.9 48.8
More developed regions 47.9 48.2 49.4 50.8 50.9
Less developed regions 45.7 46.3 45.5 44.7 45.7
Europe 48.5 48.0 48.5 51.7 52.4
Northern America 49.8 51.1 52.6 51.0 51.0
Oceania 44.4 46.5 47.9 49.1 50.5
Northern Africa 49.5 47.7 45.8 44.9 42.8
Sub-Saharan Africa 40.6 42.1 43.8 46.0 47.2
Southern Asia 46.3 46.9 45.9 44.4 44.4
Eastern and South-eastern Asia 46.1 47.6 47.0 48.5 50.1
Western Asia 45.2 46.6 47.2 47.9 48.3
Caribbean 45.3 46.1 46.5 47.7 48.9
Latin America 44.7 46.9 48.4 50.2 50.5
Source: The Global Dimensions of Female Migration
By Hania Zlotnik March 1, 2003
Published in Migration Policy Institute. All rights
reserved. MPI · 1400 16th St. NW, Suite 300 ·
Washington, DC 20036
It is undeniable though that for developing countries in Asia, more women became
migrants such as Sri Lanka – 69%, Indonesia – 65% and Thailand – 55%. The
Philippines on the other hand, deployed 69% women migrants in 2002 and even
reached 72% in 2001. Indonesian female migrants alone in 2002 were estimated by
NGO’s to be between 1.4 million and 2.1 million. (Study made by the ILO in 2000)
Most women work as domestic helpers while others are categorized as entertainers.
The entertainment industry is a euphemism for prostitution, wherein sometimes
certain countries require women to undergo cultural training but end up in bars and
the like. There are also cases of human trafficking and white slavery where women
are forced to work as prostitutes while being duped to engage in other kind of work.
Others work in the service sector including a growing number of
caretakers/caregivers, while the rest especially in Taiwan and South Korea work in
One thing common about those working in homes and even in the service sector is
that they are not covered by the Labor Laws of most migrant importing countries.
They are therefore very vulnerable to abuse including of a sexual nature. For a time
one country which imports labor even required pregnancy tests on female migrants
every six months. Although this was officially dropped a few years ago, there are still
cases of women migrants in factories who are sent home once they are found to be
Beyond the statistics though on the number of women migrants and what kind of
work they perform, we should ask why a growing number of women are going
overseas to work. The ILO did a study in 1996 wherein they concluded that women
go abroad to work because a large number of their male counterparts are getting
unemployed in their home countries and also of the lure of getting higher wages in
There is also a growing demand for maids and nurses. But if we will see what kinds
of jobs women migrants are in and look back at what Marcella Ballara of REPEM
said earlier, the categories where women work most are the most vulnerable in terms
of rights such as domestic work where usually these are not covered by any labor
laws. At the same time, women workers are sought after as industrial workers
because they are seen by employers as less troublesome and easier to control than
their male counterparts.
For this research, though, we would concentrate on undocumented women migrant
workers in Korea and the New Conditions of Stay (NCS) in Hong Kong. Most
undocumented women migrants in Korea work in factories or to be more precise in
sweatshops. They chose to become undocumented because their conditions are a
little better off than the prevailing trainee system in Korea. Although recently, the
Korean government introduced the Employment Permit System (EPS), it still retains
the trainee system to ensure cheap labor for employers. In Hong Kong, the NCS is
only imposed on foreign domestic helpers where the great majority are women. It
also provides limited stay to those with terminated working contract.
III. Case Study on the impact of the Two Week Rule on women migrant workers
in Hong Kong
On 16 April 1987, then secretary for Security DG Jeaffreson announced the New
Conditions of Stay (NCS), which ruled that a change of employment would not be
allowed in the first two years of the employment contract; that those who break their
contract would not be allowed to submit a new and valid contract before they leave
Hong Kong; and that when a foreign domestic helper’s (FDH) contract is terminated,
only two weeks is allowed for the FDH to stay in Hong Kong; thus the name Two
There are exceptions to this rule which include cases when the employment contract
cannot continue because the employer dies; is unable to pay wages due to financial
reasons, or leaves Hong Kong. Violation of contract due to illegal work or any form of
maltreatment that can be substantiated through evidence is also considered as
The United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL) and the Mission for Filipino Migrant
Workers immediately protested against the NCS. With legal help from Melville Boase
& Co. and support from other migrant advocates, they refuted the grounds for this
unjust and discriminatory policy. Series of letters, statistics and individual testimonies
of Filipino domestic helpers were submitted to the Secretary for Security, the Labour
and Immigration Departments, and to the Philippine Consulate General, to highlight
the adverse impacts of this policy. Rallies and signature campaigns were launched;
all to no avail.
In 1993, UNIFIL once again enjoined other migrant and church groups to send a
petition letter to then Governor Chris Patten, calling for the abolition of the two week
rule, among others. Supported by local migrants advocates, the issue was also
brought to the attention of the Legislative Council; then to the International Labour
Organization. Still nothing happened.
In 1994, UNIFIL made a submission on the NCS at a Round Table for the United
Nations Committee for the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
(CERD) at the Hong Kong University. The same submission was delivered at a
Round Table Discussion of UN Committee on the Convention for the Elimination of
Discrimination Against women (CEDAW) also at the Hong Kong University.
In 1996, a stronger force of the Asian Migrant Coordinating Body (AMCB), an alliance
of Filipinos, Indonesians, Thai, Nepalese and Sri Lankans, was organized. But the
Hong Kong government remained defiant on the issue of the NCS and maintained
that the two week rule does not discriminate against domestic helpers by race in its
Human Rights report to the United Nations secretariat in 1999.
Legal researches and advocacy on the Two week rule
A. Atty. Melville Boase, who represented the Mission for Filipino Migrant
Workers on the issue of the two week rule in 1987, maintained that this was an
arbitrary imposition by the Hong Kong government solely in favor of employers to put
further pressure upon foreign domestic helpers – and, as a side effect, raised
substantial revenue for the government by reason of fees from extension of visas.
He gave several reasons why the two week rule is wrong at law:
1 The law should apply equally to all parties;
2 The procedure to enforce the contractual terms between the parties is
through the Labour Department and the Labour Tribunal;
3 Under the two week rule the government levies an imposition by way of
extension of visa fee against a maid alone for taking each step in that
4 The government is therefore levying a charge against one party along to
the contract; and
5 This is further compounded by the Immigration Department denying the
foreign worker the right to work or to support herself in any way whiles the
proceedings are outstanding against the former employer, this even
depriving her of the ability to earn funds to pay for the extension of visa
fees to pursue the claim.
B The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) in
consultation with the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, United Filipinos in Hong Kong,
Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers and the
Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, submitted a report to the 59th session of
the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in February 2003 to
urge the international community to consider the unfair and unjust effects of the Two-
APWLD’s submission also came together with signatures from the Asian migrants
community in Hong Kong.
In its submission, the APWLD outlined the reasons why the Two-Week Rule is unjust
and unfair to Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) as migrant workers and as women.
APWLD maintained that the conditions imposed through the Two-Week Rule
jeopardize the bargaining position of women migrant domestic workers (MDWs) by
forcing them to accept inhuman treatment and sub-standard living conditions, so that
local employers and the national economy can directly benefit from their under-
recognized and under-valued work.
For APWLD and it partner organizations in Hong Kong, the Two-Week Rule ignores
HKSAR’s commitments to international human rights law set out in the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(ICESCR), Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Convention on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, conventions on Domestic Violence
Against Women (DVAW), and other UN and ILO Conventions.
The submission also outlined the difficulties that MDWs experience to avail of the
legal recourses through the Labour, Immigration and Legal Aid Departments. These
1 Excessive cost of visa extension fee (i.e. HK$135);
2 Uncertain immigration status because of the wide discretion of
immigration officers exercise in deciding whether to grant visa extensions
required for the MDW to proceed with the legal process;
3 Bias and unwillingness of the police to receive statements or issue
memorandums necessary for immigration extensions;
4 Inability to meet evidentiary standards, which often require unobtainable
written documents and witness testimony;
5 Inability to qualify for legal aid (despite wages often well below the
minimum wages) because employers do not provide or release
documentation of income; and
6 Pressure and intimidation from employers to drop cases.
APWLD’s submission called on the Government of HKSAR to: a) abolish the Two-
Week Rule; and b) invite the Special Rapporteur on Migrants to independently
assess the situation of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and to recommend
measures to address the human rights violations that migrants face within the region.
Additionally, the submission called on all member states of the UN to: a review the
existing policies and procedures on migrants and to develop new bilateral and
multilateral agreements on labour, based on internationally accepted norms and
principles of human rights; and b) address the issues raised in Resolutions 2002/54,
2002/58, 2002/59, and 2002/62, of the 58th session regarding the protection of the
rights of migrants. In particular: the increasing manifestations of racism, xenophobia
and other forms of discrimination and inhuman and degrading treatment directed
against migrant workers; the need to implement national systems to prosecute
perpetrators of violence against women migrant which occurs inside and outside of
the workplace; the need to provide victims with access to a full range of services so
as to be able to protect their rights; and the need for states to review and revise
immigration policies to eliminate all discriminatory practices against migrants and to
provide specialized training for government policy-making and law enforcement
officials and all other concerned authorities.
As part of the campaign, the APWLD produced a campaign kit on the issue and
released various other materials in order to disseminate information on the Two-
Week Rule and its adverse effects to women migrant workers.
Current conditions of FDHs under the Two-Week Rule
Seventeen years after its imposition, the Two-Week Rule continues to plague foreign
domestic helpers. The Hong Kong government did not budge in its stand to
implement this cruel and discriminatory policy. Instead, it continues to propose and
put into practice more anti-migrant policies, like the HK$400 levy charged to
employers but deducted from the FDHs’ wages.
Evidently, employers have taken advantage of the two week rule to exploit FDHs
such as forcing them to do illegal work; asking them to perform long hours of work;
giving less than the minimum allowable wages; imposing unreasonable curfew hours;
confiscating personal documents like passports and contracts; inflicting verbal and
physical abuses including rape and even forced prostitution; and others.
The two-week rule has also benefited unscrupulous recruitment agencies. Various
forms of scams have emerged where FDHs find themselves suddenly without work
even after a few days work with their employers. Already burdened with debts
incurred for their placement fees, FDHs are placed in worse financial situations.
Negative impacts of the Two-Week Rule
a) Medical case
Virginia Iñego worked for the same employer for more than ten years. On her 11 th
year, she fell ill. Her medical examination showed that a lump that grew in her neck
caused her severe pain that spread into other areas in her head.
When she informed her employer about her physical condition, she was told that her
family was leaving Hong Kong for good in January of the following year. But in
October that year, almost four months before her employer’s departure, Virginia’s
contract was terminated.
When Virginia applied for an extension of visa due to her illness, the Immigration
Department (ID) refused because her two-week extension had expired.
Virginia was caught in a dilemma because she could not afford to leave Hong Kong
in her condition considering that her own husband was also a heart stroke patient
back home in the Philippines. With their children all in school, she needed to work to
secure their future.
Upon the advice of the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (MFMW), Virginia sought
medical recommendation from her doctor to present to the Immigration Department
for reconsideration. Still the ID refused.
She brought her case to the attention of the Hong Kong government through the
media – the South China Morning Post. For two days in a row, Virginia appealed that
she would be given a chance to extend her visa and seek medical attention in Hong
Kong considering that she had contributed to the Hong Kong economy for more than
It worked. An officer called the MFMW to inform Virginia to report to the ID
immediately. Her visa was finally extended based on the schedule provided by her
doctor for medical treatment.
b) Initial cases
The Two-Week Rule was first challenged in 1987 by a group of Filipinas. Gwen
Arcilla was one of those who strongly fought for the extension of her visa after the
initial two weeks extension expired.
Gwen worked for an employer who was at home practically the whole day and was
so fuzzy that she made sure her domestic helper did not waste any time but work.
Gwen was not treated like a person inside and outside her employer’s house. It was
no surprise when her employer suddenly terminated the contract.
Elvie, a victim of underpayment, was forced to work illegally by her employer. While
doing an errand as a messenger for her employer, she met an accident. This caused
her to be physically unable to do her tasks. Under this condition, her employer
terminated the employment contract. Her case was brought to the High Court then to
the Court of Appeal.
Because of the initial resistance of these Filipinas, there was laxity in the
implementation of the Two-Week Rule. It was recognized that this was only a policy,
not a law. Hence, there was an opportunity to assert specific conditions. In fact, the
first complainants were able to secure legal aid to pursue their cases.
c) Exceptional cases
The Immigration Department has supposedly provided considerations for FDHs to
apply for extension of visa in case of premature termination of contract. These
exceptional cases being: death of an employer, permanent emigration of the
employer, financial incapacity of employer to pay wages, and violation of employment
These exceptional cases have put the FDHs in vulnerable positions. The burden of
proof always lies on the helper, for instance, in the case of Zenaida, whose employer
died. She failed to secure a copy of her employer’s death certificate when she
applied for extension of stay. The two weeks extension had expired when she
realized that she was the one who was supposed to submit the supporting document.
A similar thing happened to Delia whose employer cited financial incapacity as
reason for the termination of contract. Her employer refused to provide any proof of
bankruptcy or loss of job. When Delia applied for extension of stay, the ID officer
informed her that her employer sent a notice of termination which was inconsistent
with the reason given to her.
Violations of contract come in many forms. For instance, when Maria Teresa arrived
in Hong Kong, she found out that she had to work in two houses owned by her
employer. Of course, her employment contract showed only one address where her
employer resides. But her duties included working for her employer’s parents who
live in another address.
When Maria Teresa reported her working conditions to the ID, she was immediately
warned that she was doing illegal work, meaning she has committed a breach of the
conditions of stay; hence, she could be prosecuted. She told her employer about this
thus resulting to the premature termination of her employment contract.
Another common violation of contract involves underpayment, which is the most
common case among Indonesian domestic helpers. Despite the minimum allowable
wage (MAW) indicated in the employment contract, employers can easily get away
with this form of exploitation knowing that FDHs are deep in debt due to exorbitant
placement fees and other expenses incurred in applying for a job in Hong Kong.
Most often, FDHs cannot pursue their claims to arrears in wages because two weeks
is not enough to secure proof that they have been underpaid. In the absence of
documentary evidence, the ID does not allow any application for extension of stay.
IV. The report on oppressed human rights of The Women Migrant Trainee
Workers under join Venture and undocumented Women Workers in Korea
Women migrants in Korea, including illegal women workers, came from various
countries of Asia that include China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirkistan
(Kyrgyztan) , Philippine, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka,
Iran, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
They come to Korea with various types of visa like the Industrial Trainee visa (D-3),
Entertainer’s visa (E-6), Visiting/Cohabitation visa (F-1) and Tourist visa (C-3). Still
others enter Korea by “stowing” or through smuggling one’s self to the country.
As to the types of jobs that women workers are engaged in, they are usually factory
workers, housekeepers (domestic workers), workers in restaurants and hotels and
they are also engaged in the farming and fishing industry. Many women are also
forced into sex work In clubs and often also in towns surrounding the military bases
of the United States. Some women are also involve din missionary work or in NGO
activities. Still other women are married to Korean nationals and went to Korea as
As foreign workers and foreign nationals in Korea, women migrants encounter
various problems and difficulties ranging from employment issues, to lack of
educational opportunities, to the availability of social services for children of women
married to Korean nationals. Domestic violence, sexual harassment and violence
also occurs. For sex workers, more often than not, they are forced to engage in such
a kind of job. Many of them are forcibly confined so that they cannot escape and
seek help form authorities. Because of the vastly different societal structures, women
migrants like their male counterparts also meet difficulties due to cultural differences.
The more common problem pertains to the lack of knowledge in the Korean
There are several existing laws in Korea that women migrants can use to protect
their right as women and as foreign workers. These include the Law for Women's
Rights in Korea, Law against Gender Discrimination, Law against Domestic Violence,
Law against Sexual Violence and Labor Standard Act.
Korea is also a signatory to various international agreements that it is bound to
uphold including the International Convention on the Human Rights, International
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Family,
International Convention against All Kind of Discrimination on Women, Declaration of
World Conference against Racism
Serious oppression from industrial training system
The first time Korean companies called migrant workers to this country was in the
1980s. Under increased market competition, Korea has adopted industrial export
strategy since 1970s. Intensive labor industry companies such as footwear, textile,
clothing and small sized sub- contact electronics started their own investments in
foreign countries such as Indonesia, Philippine, Bangladesh, and others.
The reason why Korea had rapid economic growth at that time was the fact that the
entrepreneurs could exploit their workers. It was also the time that the Korean
workers started to struggle for their fundamental rights and democracy which brought
about improvements to their rights and living wages. As soon as big firms started to
pay high wages, many Korean firms started to invest in South Eastern Asian
countries in search of cheap labor. During the 1997 Asian economic crisis, Korean
investments decreased a bit while, at the same time, small companies used foreign
workers to work in their factories in Korea
When the Korean firms put up their branch factories or invested in joint ventures with
local firms abroad, they began to employ local workers. These workers were then
sent to Korea for industrial training according to the joint venture trainee system.
According to them, the purpose of sending workers from other countries to Korea
was to train them but the real purpose was not to teach them industrial skills but get
cheap labor. Since the Korean government cooperated with other countries for the
industrial training system, lots of young women workers also arrived to Korea, in
particular from South East Asia. Most of them were unskilled workers and were first
When they started working in Korean factories, almost 100% of them did not speak
Korean. Their labor contract also did not allow them to transfer to other factories
while local agencies always monitor them.
Of the 300, 000 industrial training workers from 26 countries working in Korea, 50 %
of them are female workers.
The present structure of the foreign workers trainee system
1) The present structure of the Joint Venture Industrial Trainee
In 1980s, the shortage of workers was very serious especially in small and medium
firms which suffered from the labor shortage. These firms include those from the
construction industry and the mining industry. When small and medium industries
demanded from the government to allow them to bring foreign workers to Korea, the
government decided not to employment of foreigners not as workers but as trainees.
So in 1991, the Korean government prepared the legal ground to set up the present
industrial trainee system and to bring foreign workers to Korea. That was the origin of
Joint Venture Industrial Trainee System.
In 1991, 599 joint venture industrial trainees were brought to Korea. By the next year
1992 the number increased to 4,945.
Foreign workers is as follows there are distributed all over the country and belong
mostly to firms with more than 200 employees (Reference Materials 1 and 2). The
situation in February 2004 shows that there are more than 400,000 foreign workers in
Korea. Among them, 184,199 are legalized selectively by the Employment system in
October 2003. Many foreign workers since then have been deported or left the
country voluntarily by themselves. An estimated 140,000 foreign workers remain to
be so called undocumented.
Reference Material 1. The distribution per year and their status
Source: ministry of Labor (unit :individual)
Legalized Worker Industrial Undocumented Worker
(holding working visa) Trainee (illegal stayer)
1990 21,235 2,833 0 18,402
1995 128,906 8,228 38,812 81,866
2000 285,506 19,603 77,448 188,995
Oct, 2003 358,000 52,000 306,000
Feb, 2004 374,000 59,000 139,000
Reference Material 2. The distribution of permission to stay per year among
Source : Ministry of Justice(unit : individual)
Joint Industrial Industrial Industrial
Venture Trainee Trainee Trainee Total
Etc after Visa
Industrial belonging belonging belonging
Trainee to KFSB to NFFC to CAK
199921,774 55,883 591 288 409 0 2,265 81,860
200026,103 77,155 748 453 388 2,068 3,916 104,847
25,830 72,055 1,058 1,030 371 9,684 5,092 115,120
(22.4%) (62.6%) (0.9%) (0.9%) (0.3%)(8.4%) (4.5%) (100%)
※ KFSB : Korea Federation of Small Business
※ NFFC : National Federation of Fisheries Cooperation
※ CAK : Construction Association of Korea
There are two ways to work legally in Korea. One is for Korean firms to have
branches abroad then send the people to Korea for skills training and the other way
is for Korean firms in Korea to apply with the agency of KFSB to get a permission to
employ foreign workers. When the new Employment Permit System comes into force
starting August 2004, there will be another way to come to Korea.
Problems which exist when foreign workers enter Korea
Why do Korean entrepreneurs bring foreign workers to Korea? They pretend to bring
foreign workers for skills training but in reality they want to get cheap labor and fill up
the shortage of local workers.
Workers under the Joint Venture Industrial Trainee System have to work in poorer
working condition than any other undocumented workers and the industrial trainees
belonging to KFSB. This is the reason why the rate of job change is very high. For
this reason, training companies seize part of the trainees' wage or levy excessive
expenses to guarantee that they do not change their jobs. They also force foreign
workers to sign slave-like contracts.
1. Ghost firms
Some Korean firms do not invest abroad but instead set up ghost firms abroad with
brokers or local agencies that are able to recruit and bring laborers to Korea.
They establish ghost factories which exist only on paper but allow them to bring
foreign workers to Korea provided they pay 50 million Korean Won in a Korean bank.
PangRim Co., Ltd in Gumi industrial complex zone made a contract with a local
manpower agency in Vietnam and employed women workers. According to the
contract, Vietnamese women workers had to pay $ 4,000 to $5,000 (including
guarantee money of $3,000) to come to Korea and have to send back $3,000 to
Phuto Company in Vietnam. Only after they paid the $3,000 to the firm that they can
send money to their families.
2. Excessive guarantee money and leaving cost to Korea
Sinsung Precision Co. in Gumi brought Chinese trainees through a local agency in
China. The trainees had to pay 4.8 million Korean won (3.2 M guarantee money and
1.6 M for other expenses) and mortgage their house to come to Korea. They had to
work under the condition that it can never be returned to them if they run away from a
training company and pay the fine 0.6 million.
3. Joint guarantee system
The company forced trainees to enter the joint surety system.
4. Infringement on human rights
A. Seizure of Identification Cards
Staying abroad without a passport is stressful. The Immigration Control Law of Korea
says that "All foreigners must possess their own passport and ID card all the time
and when they break this law they have to pay at least 1 million Korean won as
penalty." But most of migrant workers who are trainees do not have their passports
because the training company keeps it. That is certainly illegal but the Ministry of
Justice never mentioned nor controlled it. The ministry instead demands for their
passport and ID card from the company when migrant workers ran away.
The reason for the seizure of passports and IDs, according to the companies, is
prevent breakaways. However, experiences has proven that it is not so. On the
contrary, it causes more problems. For example, workers can not prove their identity
when they are in an emergency situation like a car accident, company dishonor, and
industrial accident. Also, it makes too hard to receive compensation for business
suspension, disability or overdue wages.
B. Wages lower than the minimum wage
Joint Venture industrial Trainees receive the lowest wage among other migrant
workers in Korea. Most of the overseas investment companies are paying wages less
than 10% compared with Korean workers. Korean government has launched the law
called 'The Rule for Protecting Joint Venture Industrial Trainees' in 1999. But there
has not been any change on the trainees' working conditions because of some
poisonous provisions in that law.
C. Sexual violations
Most of women trainee workers are forced to work under a two-shift system because
many factories operate the machine for 24 hours. In particular, female workers who
are working at the province do not know well how to protect their rights in this
situation. Very often, they complain against their male co-workers of touching their
body. The other serious problem is that they live with other male foreign workers that
pose problems to them as women and so they ran away.
The Gukje Sangpou Corporation (Sasang-gu Busan City) employed seven women
trainees by an Indonesian Joint Venture company. According to the contract which
had been concluded in April 1999 the trainees should receive US$120 (108,000Won)
for the first six months with a 10-hour basic working hour. For the next six months,
they should receive US$200 (180,000Won) and a bonus of US$500 (450,000Won)
when the contract is finished. The company fixed the exchange rate to 900 Won per
All companies in Korea must pay minimum wages for an 8-hour basic working time.
The company also imposed forced labor without an allowance. Moreover, the
exchange rate was ridiculous for such a rate was only applicable in 1997. Such a
scheme further reduced the wages of the workers.
The Bosaeng Corporation (Sasang-gu, Busan City) employed 15 trainees through an
Indonesian Joint Venture Company. According to the contract, the company will pay
US$300 per month for salary with eight hours of basic working time. The company
should also pay for overtime work as agreed upon by the trainees and the company.
But the fact was very different. Trainees worked in two shifts with 11 hours per day
work while receiving only US$333 and without an allowance. The company sent
some of money to Indonesia directly without workers' agreement. The application of
exchange rate also was fixed at 6,000 Rupee per US$1 that also brought down the
worker’s wage level.
D. Seizure of wages & bankbook
The Korean Labor Law says that the wages must be handed over to the workers
directly and it must be paid all amount of money with cash and at a same fixed date.
This law is relatively followed with Korean workers normally but not for trainees of
overseas investment companies.
Most of the companies hand over just a small part of the salary to the trainee that is
usually good only for basic expenses. The company then keeps the rest of the
money and the bankbook to prevent secession. The companies give them the rest at
the airport when the trainees go back to their own country of origin. The trainees,
however, will not be able to get their money if they break away from the company
and the company keeps the money.
The Kolon Corporation which is one of the major companies in Korea brought
Indonesian trainees through a local manpower agency called PT Kensur Hutama.
The company saved 200,000 and more every month from the trainees' salary. When
the company was asked about the reason for this practice, the company answered
that it was part of the contents in the contract concluded with an Indonesian agency
and said that they send the money to the agency on cases where the trainees break
away from them.
The Sae Han Corporation saved 100,000 every month from trainees' salary and also
kept the bankbook of the workers. When the KHIS demanded that the company must
give back the money to the trainees who broke away from them, they gave in to the
demand while all the time saying that it was an excessive demand.
The Young Sin Sa Corporation saved all the salary of their Indonesian trainees in the
bank. The trainees, however, could not withdraw by themselves because the
company used their legal seal when they opened the bank accounts and also seized
the bankbooks. The company confiscated all money when the trainees broke away.
E. Detention in the factory
There have not been many cases of detention now due to the media's influence but it
is still happening. Some companies do not let their workers to seek accommodation
outside. They control the movement of their trainees when they go out and are only
allowed to go out in groups with a management staff.
F. High occurrence rate for industrial accident because of absence of training
for duty and education for industrial safety.
Even though it is essential, most of the companies do not carry out education &
training programs for basic communications and prevention of industrial accidents.
The reason is that the trainees deployed at the working place immediately come to
Korea. This is why occurrence of industrial accidents is higher with trainees
compared with Korean workers.
G. Conflict with Korean workers
There is no language education and cultural information offered to the trainees to
understand and adapt to Korean society. In the working place, abusive languages
and violence occur because of difficulty of communication and differences in culture
and habit. There is no language education, counseling and advices even in very
serious situations. In some cases, though there are labor unions in the company, the
unions do not take any action. The solidarity with migrant workers and Korean
workers is very difficult.
Changes to the Trainee Workers System
1. The period of training and working ⇒ 1 year training; 2 years working
2. The full application of all Labor Laws is for all migrant workers.
3. A standard labor contract must be signed by both worker and employer and both
sides must live up to the terms.
4 The education regarding training and working time of 20 hours must include:
a. Industrial safety instructions
b. Practical hands on training
c. Education in Immigration Laws
5. The rules with regards to changing of work places must be properly explained.
6. The authority and role of the Ministry of Labor must be widened and both workers
and employers should be made aware of it.
According to this new provision, the trainee workers will be included in such laws and
regulations as :
a. The Labor Standard Act
b. Minimum Wage Act
c. Industrial Safety Laws
d. Workmen's Accident Compensation Insurance.
After the expiration of the one year period of training -- a trainee worker who wants to
stay must have a Standard Work Contract signed by both worker and employer. This
is to protect both worker and employer in case of a problem in the future. Each side
must keep a signed copy of the contract. The trainee worker should then work at this
work place for the period stated in the contract.
However, a worker will be allowed to change his work place only under the following
1. Serious violations of his basic Human Rights (eg. violence, harrassment, safety
and health reasons).
2. In case where the employer terminates or abandons the contract.
3. If there is a shut down at the work place or some other serious reason why he
cannot work there any longer.
4. If after a Medical Examination he is not fit to do that job any longer.
5. If the worker is not paid in the proper manner by the employer (eg. many delayed
6. In cases of any other serious violations of the Labor Laws takes place.
When trainee workers have the facts and want to change their place of work for any
of the reasons above, they can go to the Center for Human Resources at the Ministry
of Labor, or at the offices of some other group, such as, the Korean Federation of
Small Businesses, or the Foreign Workers Association, so as to obtain professional
advise and service.
Additionally, the Ministry of Labor now offers free consultation with available
interpreters to assist the workers. This new provision can be used to help all migrant
workers to obtain proper work permits in the future.
What is the way to solve the problem
There is an old saying that "Fallen leaves are a bigger problem after the rain". This
means that sweeping up fallen leaves is more difficult after the rain, because it is wet
and they stick in the mud. Therefore, we actions should be taken before the problem
happens rather than waiting until after when it will be much more difficult to correct.
The industrial trainee system can only be corrected by abolishing it and basic human
rights should be guaranteed to all foreign workers.
Currently many trainee workers are facing much pain and anguish. Here is one such
story: A company called "D" employed industrial trainees and paid them only 200,000
won a month for their basic salary. However, they actually received only 50,000 won
and the rest were laid aside as compulsory "savings" every month. The workers had
to work 12 hours a day to make 480,000 won a month though the minimum salary for
8 hours work a day is 510,000 won a month. These workers worked 12 hours a day
and still received even less than the minimum wage. The matter was reported to the
authorities and the owner was severely punished for violating the Labor Standard
Act, and the Minimum Wage Act.
Here is another even more serious incident of abuse: Company "B" in Geumcheon-
gu Seoul, controlled and restricted trainees movements strongly. Trainees often had
to climb over the walls to buy things, as the company locked the exit of the dorm with
an iron chain. Trainees were practically treated as slaves.
The female Chinese trainees reported to the Ministry of Labor that the company
allowed 20 young men at 6:00 o'clock in the morning to trespass into the female
dorm and physically harass and abuse them. One of the trainees tried to commit
suicide after shouting "I will tell this all over the world even if I will be killed" form the
4th floor. Fortunately she was saved and the incident stopped.
Despite of these problems, the Government still proposed to expand the Industrial
Trainee System on July 15, 2002. Up to now, undocumented workers are still
struggling against the periodic crackdown that authorities conduct. Demonstrations
for the abolition of the Industry Trainee System and compulsory deportation have
become more powerful and widespread throughout the nation.
The following are some very important demands that the Government must address:
1. Abolish the Trainee System and guarantee the migrant workers their basic Human
Rights. This may be possible as Mr. Roh has already pledged to implement a new
employment permit system. However, in order to realize this goal, NGOs and migrant
workers must push much more actively.
2. The deportation of undocumented workers must be stopped. These people are
only trying to find work to help their families. How can civilized people punish others
who simply trying to help their families? In advanced countries like Europe there is
already a Green Card System which allows undocumented workers who pass certain
screenings to work legally. Small and medium sized businesses cannot exist without
this vitally needed labor force.
Almost 50% of migrant workers globally are women. For 2003, the Philippines which
is one of the top labor exporters, deployed 241,511 of which 73% are women. This
figure does not even include undocumented migrant workers.
Globalization has further increased the number of women migrants leaving their
home countries to work. In underdeveloped countries, women find it hard to look for
jobs. If they do have jobs, they are usually contractuals or they receive low wages.
It is no wonder that many of them are forced to look for livelihood overseas.
Especially for rural women, devastation of the agricultural sector in backward
countries means displacement from their home country.
Abroad, women are confined to stereotyped jobs. Most of the women workers land
jobs such as domestic helpers, caregivers, nurses or entertainers. Still others are
forced into prostitution or white slavery. If they are factory workers, they are usually in
the garments and electronic sectors, labor-intensive works that mostly use women
even in underdeveloped economies.
Globalization intensifies the employment of cheap labor by multinational companies.
This is why in countries like Hong Kong and Korea where women migrants abound,
policies exist that ensure the most benefit that can be had from women migrants at a
much lower “rate”.
The New Conditions of Stay (NCS) in Hong Kong is a discriminatory policy that
forces foreign domestic workers to “bear” exploitative conditions just so they can
keep their jobs. It discriminates on one of the lowest paid among the migrant workers
in Hong Kong and also discriminates on women who form the overwhelming majority
of household workers in Hong Kong.
It is time for the Hong Kong government to scrap this policy and monitor a fair
implementation of the employment contract and the labour ordinance both for the
welfare of the employer and the foreign worker.
In the last five years, the Hong Kong government even pushed through with more
policies that further depress the condition of the FDWs. Twice already, the
government implemented wage cuts that slashed the wages of migrants by more
They even tried to push through with a proposal to remove the maternity protection
and benefits for migrant workers. It was only through a widespread outcry that the
proposal was dropped.
Meanwhile for migrants in Korea, the decision to make the Employment Permit
System (EPS) on a trial basis and retain the industrial trainee system will result to an
increase in the number of migrant workers, including women, who will become
This is compounded by the very small number of quota for foreign workers allotted to
countries like the Philippines (6,000 compared to 185,000 who applied for jobs). It will
encourage many to enter Korea in other ways. For women going to Korea, some of
them might even end up in bars as victims of white slavery syndicates as
experienced by a number of them in the past.
However, instead of addressing the fundamental issue that force migrants to ran
away form their employers, the Korean government instead conduct widespread
crackdowns on undocumented migrants. These crackdowns oftentimes lead to
various cases of human rights abuses.
These issues are not faced by the migrant workers sitting down. Steadily the
movement of migrants in both countries is growing.
In Hong Kong, women migrants are at the forefront of the rights and welfare struggle.
They are the leaders of organizations who take to the streets in protest and hold
dialogues with various groups and government offices to advance their issues.
Member organizations of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) in Hong
Kong continue to expand its membership. The AMCB is the main formation of Asian
migrants that addresses the issues of wage and job condition of the migrant workers.
Particularly, it was the AMCB who organized the historic 12,000 – strong rally of
FDWs against the wage cut in 2003.
The United Filipinos in Hong Kong, one of the pioneer alliances in HK and a founder
of AMCB, has also recently initiated the formation of a progressive confederation of
Filipino alliances in Hong Kong. This will surely make stronger the organized ranks of
The NCS is a long-standing issue among the Asian migrants. Together with
advocates, migrant groups continue to lobby for it to be scrapped. Through the efforts
of the AMCB, Hong Kong NGOs and the Asia Pacific Women for Law and
Development (APWLD), the fight against the NCS has also reached the United
In Korea, meanwhile, women also play a major role in the struggle against
crackdowns and the rights of undocumented migrants. WE MOVE, an organization of
women migrants is very much active in raising the awareness of women migrants as
women and as overseas workers. They are also very much a part of the different
actions that have been recently conducted against the crackdowns.
While it might be quixotic to think that the industrial trainee system and NCS might be
done away with in the near future, the struggle against both is in itself a struggle of
migrant women against neo-liberal globalization. That is why it is also important to
educate and mobilize migrant women against globalization. Because they will
understand better that their struggle against the trainee system and NCS is also
linked with the struggle of the working people in the receiving and sending countries
where they come from for a better and just world.